27 August 2010

Canner, Dictator, Sister, Friend

I wrote this for my local paper, which died last year. We will be embarking on canning season in a few days, so forgive me if I have previously inflicted this on the blog and I forgot! I couldn't find it in the archives.

Every year, as the little children scurry back to school, and the valley residents settle back into the fall routine, I return not to the school room, but to my sister's kitchen. It is time to bottle peaches. It is time to bottle peaches with the Royal High Dictatoress of Canning, also known as my sister, Sara.

First we go out to the peach orchard and pick peaches. Peach picking is a grand adventure. We kindly lock our children in the bed of Sara's truck with a few toys, and we pole-pick, ladder-pick, and plain old pluck pick until our arms are itchy, our hearts are content, and our boxes are full. We now have enough peaches to bottle a bazillion quarts of peaches and even give a few away.

This year, we were in the middle of picking so many peaches that we would be bottling all week, when my dad called and generously offered us two more fatty boxes of peaches apiece. My dad, he's such a sweetie.

After a trip to the orchard we head home to the pristine white counter tops and shining stainless steel sink of Sara's kitchen. The dishwasher yawns, empty, waiting to sterilize rows and rows of glass mason jars.

This is the first point at which it is helpful to be related to the Canning Dictator. When I bottle alone at home I never fail to forget to load the dishwasher first, so I get halfway through a box of peaches before realizing that I needed to start the bottles sterilizing first.

Time is another problem related to solitary bottling. When I bottle alone, one hour lasts about three days. When I bottle with the Canning Dictatoress, an hour lasts about 45 minutes. Canning Dictatoresses may have crusty exteriors, but they are actually great for chatting away the peach-peeling hours.

When the peaches are peeled and the bottles are hot, Sara's inner dictator truly rears her lovely head. “That's done boiling,” she points at the lids which I forgot were sterilizing on top of the stove. “Don't forget to wipe the rings.” I find a chipped bottle neck. “Throw it away.” Her wish is my command.

Her husband comes home after a hard day's work, and notices all the delicious, luscious, ripe peaches sitting tantalizingly on the counter, just waiting to be devoured in their juicy goodness. “You can't have that!” she exclaims.

I have to remind myself that this is Sara. This is my beloved baby sister, who remembers the name and face of every person she has ever met. And when she runs into the person (whom she hasn't seen since that one summer seven years ago) at the Walmart, she asks them about the Aunt Gertrude who was suffering with her bunions because she remembers that detail and actually cares about Aunt Gertrude—and her bunions!

So my wishes for all in this autumn, are that the children will happily enjoy their studies, that peach canners around the valley will revel in the luxury of spending time with their beloved Canning Dictators, and that the Aunt Gertrudes of the world may have a brief respite from their excruciating bunions.


msjvd said...

How fun! I thought of BOTH of you when I made jam this past week.

I thought of Sara because she gave me some of the figs that I used (the SWEETEST ones, of course!) and I wanted to give her some of the jam.

I thought of you because it would have been nice to chat with you and have you taste the jam afterwards on some nice homemade bread.

Miss you both!

Melissa said...

where do you pick your peaches? i've been searching for peaches to buy/pick so i could can but always come up short. sure loved the little article.